Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spooky Scary

Just in time for Halloween and all the attendant ghouls and goblins comes Dead Man's Bones, the debut album from Dead Man's Bones (I know, right?). While I would have appreciated a more original title, if the band exhausted their creative efforts coming up with the material on the album then I'm fine with that. There's even a song called "Dead Man's Bones" putting the group on a even footing with Wilco right now.

The album also features song titles including "Buried In Water," "Flowers Grow Out Of My Grave" and "Lose Your Soul" which should give you a bit of a hint about how macabre the material is. Add in the fact that the band is accompanied by a choir of schoolchildren and it becomes particularly creepy. It's like a Langley Schools Music Project record if Dario Argento was the choirmaster. Despite the creepy vibe, there's still a sunniness that can't be masked as the children take great delight in belting out lyrics like "my body's a zombie for you" which can be heard below:

If Dead Man's Bones was just creepy lyrics delivered by kids, this would be a novelty act quickly forgotten after November 1st, but there's great musicality and a gentleness to the record as well. The first part of "Name In Stone," for instance, brings to mind Devendra Banhart's light touch.

Don't forget to check out Dead Man's Bones Myspace page and website, which are both creepy as fuck - check the dude digging the grave on the official website (although admittedly the disembodied head on Myspace kinda makes me think of this)

Oh, if you're wondering how long it would take me to mention the fact that actor Ryan Gosling is in this band, here's your answer. But to be honest, I listened to this album and was captivated before I learned that fact. That first listen was prompted only because it's on one of my favourite labels; Anti-. Look past the 'vanity project' / 'actor band' epithets likely to be slung by those who haven't really listened. Speaking of which...

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

It's Not The Band I Hate, It's Their Name...

Seriously, what is in the water in Sweden. Is there some secret experiment going on where the drinking water has been mixed (or outright replaced) with Coca-Cola? How else to explain their proficiency at writing incredible pop songs.
For decades now there have been a string of absolute pop marvels produced by Swedes and I'm officially adding The Mary Onettes to a list that includes ABBA, the Cardigans, Robyn, the Acid House Kings, Peter Bjorn & John and Jens Lekman.

Hailing from Torpa, Jönköping, this quartet is about to release their second full-length album, Islands, on November 4th on Labrador Records. While I enjoyed their 2007 self-titled debut album, they take a great step forward here with both the production and the songwriting.

Album highlight "Dare" features an epic intro that swells with guitars and electronic strings before receding when Philip Ekström's impassioned vocals come in. They come back on the chorus - which is epic without screaming "EPIC" - and then dissipate again on the verses, simmering in the background. The best part is that the band chooses to match the accompaniment to the melodic line as Ekström climbs the register on "now I know / turning here / ain't that hard / despite my fear" [**I may be wrong about that second line - I can't find the official lyrics anywhere**]. It's always a risk for the entire focus to be on the melody and abandon harmony but damned if The Mary Onettes don't pull it off.

Their sound is a bit more muscular on lead-off single "Puzzles," a keyboard-driven tune reminiscent of New Order's work and another slice of pop perfection, where lyrics that express ennui and searching are dressed up in catchy melodies. This is where fans of The Smiths ears perk up like mine did.

Now about the band's name and my title for this post... maybe 'hate' is too strong a word, but I certainly don't like it. Why not The Marionettes? Or something altogether different. The 'cleverness' of Mary Onettes just makes me think of the movie That Thing You Do where the band want to call themselves the Oneders and people pronounce it oh-nee-ders instead of won-ders. Ah well, I'm not in the band so it wasn't my decision.

While the rest of the material on Islands is uniformly solid, take a listen to my favourite song from the album, "Dare" as well as "Puzzles," both courtesy of Magnum PR.

And be sure to check out the Mary Onettes Myspace page and their Labrador Records artists' page while their official website is under construction.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Old Friends, Back Again...

A brief post on some past Ear To The Sound favourites that have recently released new records worth a listen:

I guess we'll take this alphabetically and start with the Bowerbirds.
Upper Air was released on Dead Oceans July 7th and it is a strong follow-up to Hymns For A Dark Horse. None of the songs have stuck in my head the way "Bur Oak" did, but it's still a solid collection with the same blending of folk and indie as on the prior record.

Have a listen to "Northern Lights"

Next up is Victoria, B.C. band the Paper Cranes who followed up Halcyon Days with Chivalry's Dead - an album that came out on my birthday this August. When I spoke to Ryan McCullagh from the band recently, he explained that the title isn't a statement about the state of manners in contemporary society or the impact of feminism on notions of chivalry. "[The phrase] just stuck in my head from Archie comics when I was a kid. Archie wouldn't hold a door open for Veronica and she would say "oh, chivalry's dead." I wish I could say there was some deeper meaning to it than that, or I had some sort of social commentary but it was Archie comics."

You can listen to the title track, and many other Paper Cranes songs here.

Lastly, we've got Geneva - the follow-up to Station from Chicago's Russian Circles. Still with Suicide Squeeze, they have grown from a duo to a trio adding bassist Brian Cook to the official lineup after he guested all over Station. The album will be released on October 20th, but I've had a couple listens to an advance copy that just landed at the station and Geneva is every bit as monstrously beautiful and punishing as my #1 record of 2008. Good god - could they repeat the feat in 2009??!!

Feast your ears on the Suicide Squeeze stream of the entire album while I go watch my Twins feast on the Tigers.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...